Businesses selling tobacco products in Kent now require a license from the city to it.
Kent City Council voted on Wednesday to go ahead with this Tobacco Act 21a law passed four years ago that banned the sale of tobacco to anyone under the age of 21, with the license that will fund enforcement of the law.
Officials from the city’s health department recently told the council that the $400-per-year license fee would fund two compliance checks per year to ensure cigarettes or e-cigarettes are not being sold to minors.
Councilor John Kuhar voted against the ordinance and Councilor Garrett Ferrara abstained, but the other seven councilors voted in favor, giving the law an “overwhelming majority” of the votes required for approval.
The license would fund the estimated 28 retailers in Kent to have compliance audits twice a year. Since the passage of Kent’s ordinance in 2018, state and federal leaders have enacted legislation banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.
Kent is now the 15th community in Ohio to approve a tobacco retail license, and proponents hope to roll out the program statewide.
Kuhar said he voted against the license bill because he believed it was “an overstatement”. The city banned the sale of tobacco products to minors four years ago, and children are still getting them, he said.
“Kids have always gotten things they weren’t supposed to have, and they always will,” he said. “No matter what law you have, it will always come down to parents making complaints about a business selling these products to their children and investigating those complaints.”
Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer Bish said the ordinance would “encourage good behavior” and retailers wanting to comply with the law would welcome the opportunity to “level the playing field”.
Councilman Robin Turner said the city’s health department asked for the legislation because of an issue with enforcement.
“This is just another tool in the toolbox,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an overstatement by the government.”
Councilor Roger Sidoti said people expect those who sell alcohol or food to be licensed and he sees no problem in requiring people who sell tobacco products to be licensed as well.
However, Ferrara said the state is taking on those royalties and is not asking cities to take on licensing or enforcement.
Shaffer Bish pointed out that the Tobacco 21 legislation started at the local level and grew into a state and federal program.
“We are leaders in doing the right thing,” she said. “We’re on guard in Kent.”
Councilwoman Gwen Rosenberg said vape products are being marketed to children and the federal government has done nothing to regulate it. She said she believes it is “perfectly reasonable” to ask retailers to obtain permits to sell such products.
“That seems perfectly reasonable to me,” she said. “I think it will prevent a lot of addiction and heartache.”
Reporter Diane Smith can be reached at 330-298-1139 or firstname.lastname@example.org.